While variety and adventure are great, they can introduce possible injury to participants and expose the church to liability. The solution? A safe and fun event begins with proper supervision and an Activity Participation Agreement. A signed agreement helps participants and their guardians know what to expect and agree to take responsibility for any risks.
A Good Communication Tool
An activity participation agreement ensures that a participant understands the risks associated with a particular activity and that he or she accepts those risks.
To protect themselves from liability, ministries should have participants sign an agreement before they engage in any activity that has the potential to cause physical injury. This would include anything from sports activities at the church to extremes like whitewater rafting.
Can Minors (18 and Under) Sign Their Own Agreements?
The short answer to this question is no. Legally, anyone under the age of 18 lacks the ability to enter into any type of contract or agreement, including a liability waiver or release form of any kind. This does not automatically mean that parents/guardians can sign these types of forms for their minor, though. Courts in most states consider the rights being waived or released to belong to the minor, and not to his parents/guardians.
While parents/guardians cannot sign away their minor’s rights, they typically can sign agreements that waive any claims resulting from injury to their minor child. These claims would include those associated with medical expenses, their own emotional injury, or other damages related to injury to the child.
Thus, an Activity Participation Agreement can be signed by a parent/guardian, because this type of agreement does not waive the minor’s rights, but simply establishes a contractual exchange:
“In exchange for allowing my child/ward to participate in the ministry activity, I agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the ministry from any liability that may result from the activity.”
You also could include language that addresses what will happen if someone is injured during the activity. A common practice is to attempt to contact a parent or guardian to inform them of the situation and ask for their direction as to how to proceed. However, if the ministry is unable to reach a parent or emergency contact, the participation agreement could give ministry personnel the authority to allow medical professionals to give necessary medical care.
Of course, you should consult with a local attorney to ensure it satisfies local legal requirements.
One Form Per Activity
As a general rule, obtain separate signed participation agreements for each activity. For instance, if one participant signs up to go on a whitewater rafting trip and to play paintball a month later, he or she should turn in two separate participation agreements. If multiple high-risk activities are planned to take place during one excursion, it's acceptable to use one agreement to cover the excursion, as long as each high-risk activity is described in the agreement.
For activities that are ongoing and have less likelihood for injury, you may be able to use one participation agreement to cover the recurring activity. For instance, if your group goes bowling once a month, you may want to use one agreement for that recurring activity for a specified period of time instead of asking each participant to have a signed release every time you go bowling. You should never rely on an activity participation agreement for more than one year. Have participants turn in a new signed agreement each year for recurring activities.
Easily Adaptable for Other Ministry Activities
One beneficial aspect of an activity participation agreement is its versatility. For example, if your church has a ministry that serves adults with special needs or who are otherwise vulnerable, you can work with your church’s attorney to adapt the activity participation agreement to add language that would address special medical or other needs as well.
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